Saturday, November 29, 2008


I've been looking forward to the release of Jasper, the 65 nm GPU for the Xbox 360 ("that's exciting--in your world," as Gloria would say).

Why would I care about a GPU die-shrink from 90 nm to 65 nm? Heat and noise. The 360 generates a remarkable amount of heat, and it's also quite loud under load (much of that is from the chattery optical drive, but the system itself is noisy as well). So I was curious to see if units with the Jasper GPU were quieter.

If you remember, in August of last year, I did a comparison between the PS3, a launch (but repaired) 360, and a 360 with the new heatsink, which you can review here.

If you're lazy (hell, I am--why not you?), the basic results (using an SPL meter 29" away from the consoles) were as follows (please remember, I'm not an engineer):
base sound level in room: 36.5-37.5 dB
console steady-state (no disc in drive): 37.5-38.5 dB
console after 15 minutes (game disc looping): 41.5 dB-43 dB

Premium Xbox 360 (launch unit, but repaired once)
base sound level in room: 37-38.5
console steady-state (no disc in drive): 39.5-40.5 dB
console after 15 minutes (game disc looping): 47.5-49 dB

Premium 360 with HDMI (not an Elite)
base sound level in room: 37-38.5
console steady-state (no disc in drive): 39.5-40.5 dB
console after 15 minutes (game disc looping): 45.5-46.5 dB

As you can see, while the PS3 was only slightly more quiet in steady state (1 dB, because the base sound level in my study was 1 dB higher when I was measuring the 360's), it was significantly quieter under load. The 360 with the redesigned heatsink, though, was 2.5 dB quieter than the original 360.

Okay, that's what we knew up to now. Here are the Jasper numbers:
Jasper 360:
base sound level in room: 36.5-37.5
console steady-state (no disc in drive): 38.5-39.0 dB
console after 15 minutes (game disc looping): 44.5-45.5 dB

Basically, the Jasper unit is 1 dB quieter than the redesigned 360 from last year. That's actually less important overall, than something else I discovered, and that's heat generation. After having the 360 under load for almost an hour, I put my hand on top of the 360 and it was barely warm. The only spot on the unit that heats up at all is the back 1" (running across the top), and it's only hot in comparison.

It's not like the air coming out of the vent holes is hot, either--this unit just doesn't run hot. Compared to previous iterations of the 360 (aka "volcanoes"), this console is incredible in terms of unit temperature. I'm assuming ("ass" is in the front, remember) that the improvement in thermal characteristis is going to make the Jasper 360 much more reliable than its predecessors.
Oh, and here's something else. Since you can install games to the hard drive now, and the hard drives makes almost zero noise, you'll essentially be playing at the "steady date" dB rating, and that's significantly quieter than the PS3 under load.

So if you're buying a 360 during the holidays, Jasper is the unit you want. The problem is that Jasper units just (and I mean within the last four days) started showing up in retail stores in the U.S., and the vast majority of new units are still Falcons.

Can you tell from looking at the box? Possibly, and here's all the information I can give you.
1. On the outside of the box, the bar code sticker will include a "team" and a "lot number." The team must be "FDOU," and the lot number must be "843x" or higher.

Please note that finding an 843x unit doesn't guarantee it's a Jasper, but any lot numbers below almost guarantee that it isn't.
2. The power supply is 150W, with an output of 12.1A. By comparison, my repaired launch unit has a 203W power supply that outputs 16.1A. Falcons have a 175W power supply and output 14.2A.

The problem, of course, is that you won't know what the power supply is until you open the box.

3. If it's an Arcade unit, the features comparison on the side of the box must list "256MB" as the memory. The new Arcades come with 256MB built-in flash memory instead of the 512MB flash memory.

All I've seen reported so far as Jasper units are the Arcade models, so it might be another few days (or weeks) until they start showing up in Premiums and Elites.

If you want to know how I wound up with this unit, here's the shortest version I can give you.

For several months, someone I know has made a standing offer of $200 for my 360. It would be a good deal for him (the Arcade unit price, but with a 20GB hard drive), but I had no replacement options that wouldn't cost me a bundle.

My 20GB hard drive was almost completely full (Rock Band DLC, of course) I saw several sites mention that Target was running a clearance special on the 120GB drives for the 360 for $89.95, which was a huge discount, but I figured I was too late to take advantage of the deal. On Thursday, though, I found one in a Target store that was 10 minutes from my house. I figured I'd transfer the data from my 20GB to the 120GB, have plenty of Rock Band storage, AND be able to install games to the hard drive as well.

Sounds good, right?

In the meantime, I'D been following the "Jasper hunter" thread at Anandtech. The first person to find a Jasper unit did so on Wednesday, and pictures were posted Thursday night.

As reports trickled in, they were all Arcade units. That's when I realized that I could buy an Arcade unit for $199, put my 120GB drive on it, and have a 360 for $290 that had a 120GB hard drive. That's a hell of a deal.

Even better, I could sell my old 360 for $200, so buying the Jasper unit was essentially costing me nothing--all I was in for was the $89 hard drive.

So I went to Fry's in Austin (on Black Friday morning, the horror) because they usually have 360 units on a pallet (easy to look through). Unfortunately, they were only Premiums, not Arcade units, so I asked a guy working there if he could direct me to the Arcade unit pallet.

The Arcade units, though, were being kept behind the registers. Crap.

However, once I explained what I was looking for, this guy went back there, looked through every single Arcade unit, found the one that was lot 843x, and made sure I got it when I went up to the register.

THAT is freaking great customer service.

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